Do you like being able to find good quality, good looking furniture at decent prices? You can thank Charles Eames for that. What about having a comfortable place to sit at the airport? Eames pioneered that, too. In honor of the legendary architect and designer’s birthday, we’re taking a look at how his vision to “bring the most of the best to the greatest number of people for the least,” enhanced the way we live.
1. He invented a molding machine that made mass-production possible. Hello affordable furniture!
Before the production techniques pioneered by Eames, you could forget about there being a ready supply of affordable, well-designed furniture at your local department store. Eames’ invention of the Kazam! machine, a device that molded sheets of plywood into curvilinear furniture, also led to the design of a functional splint for wounded soldiers. Unlike metal splints, Eames’ conformed to the natural shape of a human limb. High demand from the U.S. Navy provided Eames with the space and resources to begin mass-producing his famous plywood chairs.
2. He helped make affordable and attractive housing for American families.
The Case Study House Program was launched to explore the possibilities in creating high-quality, prefab homes for postwar life. The houses Eames designed (#8 and #9) in L.A.’s Pacific Palisades utilized new industrial technologies that made for fast construction and were built with strong, affordable materials like steel and concrete. The elegant houses proved that modern design can be beautiful and helped fuel the ways in which homes are built today.
3. He made plastic furniture a thing.
When the “plastics” technology used in World War II became available to the public, the Eames office jumped on it. Eames created his soon-to-be iconic chair molded in plastic and reinforced with fiberglass. With this “wonder” material, the Eameses achieved their goal of mass-producing beautiful furniture that the average person could afford.
4. He invented mass-seating systems for airports, stadiums, and schools.
Imagine waiting to board your flight at the airport without a place to sit and relax – just another one of Eames’ inventions that we take for granted. In the ‘60s, flying was becoming a popular way to travel, so Eames was commissioned to design public seating for busy American airports. He created Tandem Sling Seating, which went on to be installed in terminals all over the world.
5. He popularized the mid-century modern design trend that’s still all the rage today.
From Ikea to West Elm, every big box furniture store has done at least one Eames knock-off. In 1940, Eames and his colleague Eero Saarinen entered the Museum of Modern Art’s “Organic Design in Home Furnishings” contest, winning first place for their collection of chairs manufactured with a single piece of molded plywood. They have since become some of the most recognizable pieces of furniture in the history of design.
6. He made storing your stuff look good.
Made from industrial materials, the modular Eames Storage Units provided diverse storage options for homes and offices. They were sleeker than anything previously on the market and were versatile enough to be adapted to an individual’s needs and tastes. Eames also created stackable chairs for children that made for less classroom clutter.
7. He combined comfort with style.
Most of us wish we could wear sweatpants all the time and thanks to the fashionable pairs from retailers like Lululemon, we kind of can. Eames created the furniture version of stylish sweats – the Lounge Chair and Ottoman. Composed of curved plywood shells, the chair was padded with black leather and filled with foam, down, and duck feathers to give it the “warm, receptive look of a well-used first baseman’s mitt.” The chair has become an icon of modern style and comfort, and is still sold by Herman Miller today.
8. He created the first chairs that work both indoors and outdoors.
Eames introduced the first indoor-outdoor furniture line to the world with his popular Aluminum Group chair and ottoman. The aluminum frame was lightweight and durable and the newly developed SARAN upholstery was weather resistant. Charles and Ray continued to refine the design, adding increasing levels of comfort with padded seats and backs.